April 9, 2013

To paraphrase an old phrase, the best sermons are lived, not preached.

Time and time again, we hear how the most important person in a school is the classroom teacher.  We hear it, but there is not any actual proof of that given several of the bills that have been filed in the General Assembly.  The bills are bad for teachers, which means that they are also bad for students.  

On Wednesday, April 10th, the Senate Education/Higher Education Committee will consider Senate Bill 361, known as the Excellent Public Schools Act of 2013.  The bill includes a section about performance pay that only places more pressure on students taking high-stakes tests. If some teachers are performing well enough to get extra money, it stands to reason that other teachers that do not receive the money will have their worth questioned. Either way, there is more incentive to teach to a test rather than developing creative, independent thinkers that make good world citizens. Performance bonuses seem questionable in a state that is 46th in the country in teacher pay and where a teacher with a Bachelors degree has to work 15 years in order to make a salary of $40,000.  If there is enough money to pay for performance for test scores, then the state should be able to pay for the performance that gives North Carolina the lowest dropout rates it has ever had and graduation rates above the n.   

Senate Bill 361 also changes the way teachers receive contracts.  If a teacher has been teaching three years or less, that teacher will be offered a one-year contract.  If a teacher has been teaching for more than three years, that teacher will be offered a contract from one to four years.  This contracting system seems to come from the myth that it is hard to get rid of bad teachers. That is simply not true. Teachers can be fired but they have due process rights that prevents them from being let go for trivial or unethical reasons. The contract system, combined with low pay, may cause great teachers to leave or keep promising people from entering the profession.  Teacher turnover has been shown to adversely affect student achievement, particularly that of low-performing and black students. If we want all students to achieve, there needs to be stability in the schools.

Senate Bill 337, which creates the North Carolina Public Charter Schools Board, also has a provision about teaching. It eliminates all of the qualifications for teachers in charter schools, which were already quite low.  Instead of requiring 75% of teachers in elementary schools and 50% of teachers in middle and high schools to be certified, this legislation would not require any teachers to be certified.  It also eliminates the requirement for teachers of core classes to have a college degree.

The argument has been made that the removal of the certification mandates will make it easier for people who have experience in a business but not a teaching certification to be able to teach, an issue that would be solved with lateral entry. According to the law, one of the purposes of charter schools is to “create professional opportunities for teachers.”  It is hard to imagine that this bill would create professional options for teachers when it does not even treat teaching as a profession.

If we truly mean that teachers are the most important people in the classrooms, we ought to prove it.  If we do not prove it for the teachers, then let’s prove it for the students, who are the most important people on the planet to their parents and guardians.

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